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Regional Report: The Mountain States Garner Accolades for Business Expansion

Their economies are faring well, but the Mountain States continue to keep themselves busy building new industries and supporting existing employers.

Directory 2016
There have been lots of headlines focused on one new Colorado industry the past few years — the legalized marijuana trade. But away from that spotlight, the state has been doing a lot of work to cultivate other industries, too. For example, its Advanced Industries Accelerator programs are entering their second grant cycle for fiscal year 2016. The programs were originally launched in 2013 to promote growth and sustainability across a number of advanced industries, including aerospace, advanced manufacturing, bioscience, electronics, energy and natural resources, infrastructure engineering, and technology and information. Grants support pre-commercialization research and commercialization preparation.

For 2016, Colorado is also launching 14 new Enterprise Zones. The idea is to encourage business development in distressed areas, by offering companies state income tax credits for doing such things as creating new jobs and investing in business property and job training.

Utah’s business environment has been a headline-maker, but that’s not a new thing, really. Forbes recently called it the No. 1 state for business, but it’s had that title five of the past six years. According to Forbes, Utah has a business-friendly regulatory environment, and costs are competitive, especially energy, which is 23 percent below the national average. Utah also topped the “pro-business” list from Pollina Corporate Real Estate. And the “Enterprising States: States Innovate” report prepared by Praxis Strategy Group for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation had high praise for Utah. It ranked the state third overall in economic performance, and said it was “the most fundamentally sound state across all identified policy areas.”

Idaho is a little more than a year into its new Tax Reimbursement Incentive program, and its impact is already exceeding expectations. In its first year the incentive was approved for 16 business expansions promising 3,177 new jobs and $1.27 billion new payroll dollars. Idaho Governor Otter calls it a game-changer that is accelerating the state economy.

Montana may be known for spectacular scenery, but technology innovators there also get a good view of what can happen with the power of collaboration. Multiple initiatives target sectors with a lot of promise, such as biosciences, optics, energy, and information technology. The efforts to support innovation and innovators are paying off. For three years in a row the Kauffman Foundation has named Montana the top state for entrepreneurial activity. The most recent report counted 540 new entrepreneurs each month for every 100,000 adults, up from 490 the year before.

Nevada wants to support advanced manufacturing and is reaching overseas to help make that happen. The state recently signed agreements with local and state governments in Germany that aim to enhance the high-skill workforce needed by advanced manufacturing operations. Nevada’s Governor Sandoval calls the partnerships a new chapter for advanced manufacturing in Nevada. The focus on workforce is vital and valuable, state leaders believe, and they point out that CNBC recently hailed Nevada’s workforce as a major draw for economic success.

Wyoming also is aiming to diversify its manufacturing base. Manufacturing pumps about $2.3 billion into the state economy, nearly half of which is tied to petroleum and coal, so there are state efforts to draw and boost firms involved in other types of manufacturing. Things are looking up, as manufacturing employment is nearly 14 percent higher than it was back in 2010.

Positive Headlines
When it comes to positive headlines, Nevada continues to draw power from Tesla, the maker of electric vehicles that chose the state for its “Gigafactory” battery-making facility. It’s still under construction and won’t be producing until 2017, but the company already tripled land acquisition at the site.

Utah’s collection of rankings and accolades has made plenty of headlines, but so have the expansion projects that have inspired such accolades. For example, Boeing recently completed an expansion project that’ll allow the company to make a horizontal stabilizer for the 787-9 Dreamliner. Boeing Salt Lake has more than 760 people on the job at three locations. And the state’s outdoor products sector got recent boosts from Selle Royal group, which announced plans to open a bike components facility, and Cabela’s, which opened a giant new distribution center in Utah.

Financial services companies are making solid investments in Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper’s office reports. Among the latest is Fidelity Investments, which initially built a regional center in Greenwood Village in 2013, hiring more than 500 people. That center is now expanding, with another 300 hires on the way.

Among the industries on the move in Idaho is food processing. This year state officials put the spotlight on a number of wins, including a new GoGo squeeZ plant from French parent company Materne that turns out applesauce and other fruit products and expects to have more than 250 on the payroll by the time it’s up to full capacity in 2017. Meanwhile, a plant in Burley is gearing up to produce containers made from alternative materials, such as wheat and soy straw, as opposed to petroleum. Fabri-Kal makes containers for fast-food restaurants as well as the Chobani yogurt cup. The first phase of that plant could employ about 50.

Among the latest positive headlines from Wyoming is the plan to move China-based tungsten components production to Laramie. Tungsten Heavy Powder & Parts is the company involved, and its Wyoming plant is to make tungsten fragments and penetrators for military uses.

The positive economic picture in the Mountain States translates into a healthy employment situation overall. The latest jobless rates from the federal government show the nation as a whole in a decent place, but most of the Mountain region is in even better shape. Colorado’s unemployment rate as of September 2015 was 4.0 percent, and the rates were 4.2 percent in Idaho, 4.1 percent in Montana, 3.6 percent in Utah, and 4.0 percent in Wyoming. Only Nevada lagged behind, with a 6.7 percent jobless rate.
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